Dec 052015



The maroon-jacketed barbers have clearly spent the morning Brylcreeming themselves in preparation. The pictures on their wall – Gregory and Rock and the first Darren from Bewitched – greet us with sneeringly-slick Hollywood sparkle. It’s the bloke who looks like that wise Irish sergeant from Z Cars doing my hair today. The bloke with his own monogrammed scissors. I steal a packet of dunkies (did you call them that?) when he turns his back to get a mirror. I’ll never use them, obviously. I’m eleven, for God’s sake.

Hair now successfully sliced in a mock-Rock style, we leave. In the haberdasher’s opposite The Hop Poles, the haber is busy dashing. When he and my mum aren’t looking, I nick a needle and thread. Just in case. That, too, goes in my Spurs bag.

Cobblers. Alf is tall, wears a clinical white coat. He’s fired up his whirring noideawhatitdoes machine in preparation, just for me. A true professional. There’s nothing he can’t mend, Alf. He smiles as he chats to mum. And I steal some Cherry Blossom as I slide out of the place behind her. Brown Cherry Blossom: all my shoes are black.

In Ken’s, with mum outside talking to a bunch of older kids who are scrounging pennies for a guy that looks exactly like my headmaster, I leaf through the used singles. Wizzard. Medicine Head. Mud. When Ken is distracted by Cliff the Biff walking into his shop, I take a Jubbly. It’ll make my gums bleed and taste of snow. They always do.

Nearly home. The rag-and-bone man rings his bell as his horse and cart turn from the Crescent into our road, excited – I can tell by the way he and the horse are both neighing – to see me. Someone’s dumped a promo picture of Elvis in Viva Las Vegas in the cart. I nick it as old Steptoe chats to mum and Mrs Ganderton. I can’t stand Elvis.

Later, in the stillness of my bedroom, I empty my bag of my imaginary haul, spread the stuff out neatly on the bed. I stare at it all, inwardly cackling like The Joker. I don’t yet know what a metaphor is.

 Posted by at 4:50 pm
Nov 052015



Ernest puts on his favourite shirt.
And kills another bull.
He teases out, tenses out, terses out another plot
Chased by the sharks and lions and raging snows of his depression.
But she still cries.

Ernest drinks his drink.
And spikes another Englishman’s.
He suns through, guns through, runs through another story
Pursued by the cheers and beers and ideals of his Paris.
But she still cries.

Ernest walks in the Louisiana rain.
He wonders if it’s the tears of God.
He grins, sins, begins one final glass of bourbon
Wondering how his son is getting along.
But she still cries.

Ernest decides to die.
He wants to use his favourite gun.
He teases, pleases, squeezes the autobiographical trigger
And punctuates his unedited life incorrectly.
But she still cries;

 Posted by at 4:53 pm
Sep 092015


I was never a mod. Too awkward, too uncertain, too utterly lacking in cool or style, too scared of my own shadow. But I loved The Jam. Absolutely bloody loved them. I remember thinking – and saying – and believing – that, in the late Seventies, Paul Weller was writing songs that I would write if I had, if I had… whatever it was Weller had. Their music – that first album and All Mod Cons particularly – made me feel alive, raw, real, certain, understood. And, just like someone in the film, Weller sticking a Shelley quote on an album-cover dug poetry – and politics – deep into the soil of the rest of my life.

Of course, when I say I wasn’t a mod, it wasn’t through lack of trying, at least for a few months. I bought a (terrible) parka in Second Time Around. I got my hair cut like Weller (only to end up with something that made me look more like Rick Buckler). I bunked off school and went down to the Royalty to try and get a part (unsuccessfully) as an extra in Quadrophenia. I once sang ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’ live on stage, at The Pegasus in Stoke Newington (to what was almost certainly huge acclaim from adoring fans, I don’t know – I was too drunk on rum and black and fantasies of Whatsername being there to see my moment of glory).

There are those who would question whether Weller was a mod anyway, whether The Jam were really a mod band. I don’t know that either: I’m not sure what mod really means. I’m not sure how subversive, how modernist, how political it ever was/is. Or whether that matters. I do know it was proud and glittering and embracing and precious and exclusive and – sometimes – beautiful and it wrapped itself around some of the greatest black-and-white music ever made. I think it was/is important. And I know I wasn’t ever a mod, however hard I tried.

Which, in itself, may or may not matter. I wanted to cry at times watching this thing and I’m still not sure why. It reminded me of growing up, of course, of my parents, of my kids, of time passing. It reminded me of twenty-odd years living in Woking, of people and places lost, of dreams diluted or dumped, of hope kept alive by music and friendship and love and language and football and art. It reminded me of how like and how unlike Weller I am. And how the people who made the film (most particularly, Weller himself) couldn’t ever bring themselves to admit that.

Someone said the other day that Weller was ‘the man we all wanted to be’, because he was ‘more of a man’ than us. Well yes. And no. I watched the film and I could see why he enraptured us. I could see why I’ve spent half my adult life talking about him (have a look at…/soaked-in-treasure-a…/…). Watching this, I recognised the part of me that still wants to be him (or at least the 19-year-old him). And yet…There was no darkness in this: this was hagiography, a weird, cartoony panegyric. People like me, and (more importantly) people who should have been in it because they directly helped make Weller who he is, were airbrushed, in a Stalinist way, from the story. When my daughter watched it and said, ‘I suppose I never heard them chronologically, you just showed me the individual songs you liked, not the full albums in order. I’m jealous, honestly, that I didn’t grow up with it in the same way’, I felt hugely guilty for a moment. I envy her her distance from it all in a way. And I envied Weller. But he wasn’t a bloody saint. He was a projection, a screen, a mirror. He was a single-minded, selfish twat. He was a bully. He was charming and clever and I once watched him be hugely, unnecessarily kind to someone at a gig. He was utterly unlike me (apart from the selfish twattiness. And the charm, obviously). We’d probably hate each other if we ever met. I can only play the driven, sure-of-himself working-class hard man convincingly for about a second. (And, of course, that might be the point: I suspect without his slow-burning, finely-crafted public brand, Weller could only actually play the driven, working-class hard man for a few seconds. Because – yes – he’s ever-changing…)

Another friend said, after watching this, ‘he seems more comfortable these days’. True, perhaps – and her saying that emphasised to me that Paul Weller has never actually been comfortable, ever: his drinking, drug-taking, his entire life seems to have been one of seeking comfort and simultaneously spitting at it and running from it whenever it appeared round the corner. He’s written some fine songs (each one, interestingly, a straightforward love song) in the last thirty years. But his attempts at experimentation, to distance himself from The Other Two and his essential Sixtiesness, have seemed (mostly) clunky and self-conscious.

Paul Weller: completely unlike me. There’s a fabulous moment about 25 seconds into this post-Jam (but desperately/knowingly-nostalgic-already) Style Council video, filmed at Woking Football Club. Watch him leap off the scooter and notice the car shake:

He’s human. Uncomfortable. A bit crap. It’s one of my favourite Weller things, that moment. Wonderful. And, oddly, not in this film.
Which is a shame. Because it’s almost – almost – as wonderful and telling as watching the power, hope, certainty and utter uncrapness of this:

 Posted by at 6:18 pm
Sep 032015


Darker than others
The worst moment
One of the worst moments
Came unexpected and daggering:
I was singing ‘Rhythm of Life’
Again and again
Over and over
Again and again
And you told me to stop

 Posted by at 6:28 pm
Aug 242015





The year my great-great-grandmother turned eighteen, the Duke of Wellington took a pack of hounds with him from England to Spain, so he could hunt foxes while his soldiers busied themselves killing Frenchmen and raping Spanish girls. Goya, meanwhile, painted rich ladies and generals and sketched the dying as he wandered through an inside-outside hell, tormented by his deafness, by the blackening violence and by the crunching smallness of making ends meet. Back home, my great-great-grandmother was painting imaginary masterpieces and driving a pack of imaginary hounds through an imaginary Spain. And me? I stayed in Barcelona, learned Catalan, stole.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 6:42 pm

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: